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5 Up, 5 Down: Joel Embiid has been fully processed

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5 Up, 5 Down is a biweekly column featuring the best and worst from the NBA as it stands on alternating Monday mornings.

There is lots to be interested in as this young season records its first 20 games. Yes, the Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t as good as we thought they’d be and the Boston Celtics are … mystifying. But so too have a slate of injuries muddled the middle of the pack in the Western Conference and that’s before we get to any of the fun stuff like demanding trades on social media.

Yes, the 2017-18 NBA season has already been exciting and as we touch base for our first edition of 5 Up, 5 Down it’s time to reflect back on some of the best and worst things that have gone on this season.

Let’s get to it, shall we?

5 Up

Tony Parker is back (and the Spurs are still 3rd)

Tony Parker officially announced that he’s coming back to an NBA floor, which is heartening for San Antonio fans. He’s been out since last year with a quad injury, and the team is still somehow in 3rd place. The West is chocked full of injuries this year, so adding back a player — even a waning one like Parker — will always help.

The Pistons are … good?

It’s never fun to fault runs like the one going on in Detroit because of sample size. We’re now a quarter of the way through the season so it’s time to say it: I think the Pistons are good. Put it this way — if I told you before the season started that Charlotte would be twice as many games back as Detroit to start December, you probably wouldn’t have guessed that the Hornets weren’t even a playoff team in this scenario.

Joel Embiid is fully processed

Everybody loves this cat, and they should given how good he’s been this year coupled with the success of the Philadelphia 76ers. He’s played in 16 out of 18 games and maintained his staggering advanced numbers from last year. If he stays on the court and the Sixers make the playoffs, I assume Sam Hinkie will parachute from the rafters at the Wells Fargo Center during lineups for the first postseason game. Plus, his social media game has only grown stronger.

The NBA supports Colin Kaepernick

At least some folks do. LeBron James has been supportive of the former NFL quarterback turned civil rights activist and charitable donor. So too has Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy. We didn’t get anthem protests like we anticipated to start the year in the NBA, but it appears players and coaches still aren’t afraid to speak their minds.

The one and done could finally be on its way out

This rule hurts players and has the appearance of mitigating risk for NBA teams in the draft while propagating an amateur system that doesn’t pay fair value for labor. I’m still not 100% convinced the league’s own risk protection doesn’t also flip some franchises out of top players by forcing them to abstain from the league and pushing them to subsequent drafts. Many one-and-done players don’t pan out in either case, so I’m not sure the rule is having its intended effect anyway. Let’s go already.

5 Down

Kawhi Leonard is still out

It’s always good when your Hall of Fame, seen-it-all-coach says he’s never seen an injury like yours, right? Tony Parker coming back before Leonard feels like some kind of ominous signal that I’m too afraid to broach this early in the year. At least San Antonio fans can clutch their, uh, 19 championship rings for comfort while they wait.

The Blazers keep winning by accident

Washington certainly did their part to stink up the joint on Saturday, but Portland beat both the Nets and Wizards this weekend sort of by mistake. This came despite late game missed FTs, dumb fouls, and slow offensive possessions in the final two minutes. CJ McCollum — good in a panic, apparently — is Portland’s saving grace this year. The Blazers 3-1 record on the road this trip is asking for a regression to the mean. The Blazers offense needs to figure it out.

We need to restart this season and set injuries to OFF

Wrap your star player in bubble wrap and stick him in a downtown penthouse loft filled to the brim with packing peanuts. Even that might not work, he might chafe his skin on the styrofoam and be out 4-6 weeks. Paul Millsap, the aforementioned Leonard, Gordon Hayward, Patrick Beverley, Mike Conley — just about every team has suffered an injury to a key player. The middle of the West is a mess because of it, although the upside might be that March becomes even more interesting than usual as a bunch of .500 teams try to fight their way back with healthy stars.

Derrick Rose might be donezo

This is sad if only from an empathy perspective. Imagine having won the 2011 NBA MVP only to spend the next six years deep in the bowels of a training center with nothing but a bosu ball and a physical therapist named Clint to keep you company (in this scenario I also assume Clint won’t stop talking to you about the benefits of ketosis). That’s basically been Rose’s life after multiple injuries, and him taking time away from the Cavaliers is a major bummer.

Free Jahlil Okafor

The basketball fan in me wants to scream about what the Sixers are waiting for because I’d like to see Greg Monroe Okafor play actual basketball. Of course, Philadelphia is just trying to do their best Bill Belichick impression here and wait out the market to get their top return. It’s hard to imagine how interest on Okafor hasn’t already bottomed out by now, so maybe the whole thing has backfired and the Colangelos are up a creek. They apparently have lowered the asking price, so maybe we get this trade sooner rather than later. In any case, I can’t wait to see Okafor in a Nets uniform. He’s going to look great.

Montrezl Harrell reportedly reaches deal to return to Clippers

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The Clippers liked Montrezl Harrell last season (he came from Houston in the Chris Paul trade), he averaged 11 points a game for the team with a very efficient PER of 24.7.

He was one restricted agent some around the league thought another team would try to poach, but in a tight market nobody was making an offer because the Clippers were just expected to match. So the Clippers and Harrell (and his agent) sat down and figured out something that worked for both sides, as reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The deal is fully guaranteed for both years, according to the report. That’s a fair price for his services, and Harrell gets back on the market in two years when the salary cap will have gone up by more than $15 million (at least by the NBA’s early predictions). He will have more options on 2020.

The Clippers are now just $500 below the luxury tax. They also have 16 contracts, which is bad news for C.J. Wilson and his non-guaranteed deal. (Technically Patrick Beverley has a non-guaranteed contract as well, but if healthy he will be back.)

For a couple of seasons, this is a good fit. Harrell will bring some athleticism and bounce to a frontcourt rotation that already includes Tobias Harris, Luc Mbah a Moute, Marcin Gortat, and Boban Marjanovic. The Clippers are a pretty good team, the problem is in the West pretty good could be the 10 or 11 seed. The conference is that deep and brutal.

Would Dwyane Wade take a big payday in China? Would Jahlil Okafor?

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Dwayne Wade is making a tough decision: Does he want to go through the physical grind to get his body ready for one more season of NBA basketball in Miami? Or, is it time to retire?

For some of the greats — most recently Kobe Bryant talked openly about this — they still love the game and the camaraderie, but they get to a point they no longer have the same passion for putting in the increasing work on their bodies to get it in NBA-level condition to perform at the level they expect. Wade is struggling with that debate right now.

Or, he could just go to China.

From Sportando:

Dwyane Wade is still a free agent after his season with Cavaliers and Heat. Wade has not decided yet whether to play one more season or retire. But D-Wade is wanted in China. Xinjiang Flying Tigers are ready to offer him a monster deal, as reported by Zhang Duo.

It’s hard to imagine Wade jumping on that, but not impossible. The salary is not going to be the motivator — he has made just shy of $180 million in salary alone in his career, and much more with endorsements — but rather the move would be about building his brand and his new lifetime shoe deal with Li-Ning, a China-based shoe manufacturer. Business-wise, it could be good for Wade to spend a season in China.

Of course, family and other considerations have to be at the forefront of his mind, which is why this still feels unlikely. Just never say never.

One guy who could go there and rehab his reputation is free-agent Jahlil Okafor. Also from Sportando:

Okafor is practicing in Miami but the Heat are unlikely to sign him but in China there are several teams interested in signing the former Duke center, as reported by Zhang Duo.

Okafor has worked out for NBA teams but has no offers (or, at least none he’s taken) and it’s increasingly unlikely he would get a fully guaranteed contract for this season. He, understandably, is clearly still working toward that goal.

In China, Okafor could put up big numbers, show he is healthy and moving well, get a good payday, and be back in the USA in time to get picked up by a team for a playoff run (the Chinese season ends in February or March, depending on how deep a team goes in the playoffs). It’s a big cultural adjustment and not for everyone, but Okafor has to be considering all his options at this point.

Jazz ending sponsorship deal with Papa John’s

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Utah Jazz are ending their sponsorship agreement with Papa John’s Pizza after the company’s founder and spokesman used a racial slur.

A person with knowledge of the team’s decision confirmed the move Friday and said it was because of the controversy. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the organization will not make a formal announcement.

A number of professional and college teams have cut ties to the company over Papa John’s founder John Schnatter’s comment during a company conference call in May. Among them are the Orlando Magic, Seattle Seahawks, New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, University of Louisville,  and numerous others.

Schnatter apologized and stepped down as chairman but remains on the company’s board. He’s since said his decision to step down was a “mistake.”

The company says it’s also investigating allegations reported in Forbes that Schnatter oversaw a work culture where women were subject to sexist behavior.

 

Report: Nemanja Bjelica agrees to three-year contract with Kings

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Nemanja Bjelica wanted some stability. That got pulled out from under him when  Tom Thibodeau and the Timberwolves rescinded his qualifying offer. He quickly agreed to a one-year, $4.4 million offer, with Philadelphia, but then came to regret it because he wanted more security than that single season. Bjelica was considering Europe.

Then the Sacramento Kings stepped in. Friday night, the two sides reached a deal.

The Kings have signed both players who backed out of verbal agreements with teams this summer, Bjelica with the Sixers and Yogi Ferrell with the Mavericks.

Bjelica is a floor-spacing big man who should fit in well with the Kings’ frontcourt rotation that includes Marvin Bagley III, Harry Giles, Willie Caulie-Stein, and others. Bjelica provides shooting — he hit 41.5 percent from three last season (where he took nearly half his shots). Bjelica has a solid all-around game that a lot of teams could have used. Including Minnesota and Philly.